Most non-permanent base residents commute to Groom Lake an Mondays, and often stay at the base until Thursday or Friday. Because of the sensitive nature of their work, they can't share their accomplishments with friends and family.
Former base commander Col. Larry McClain summarized this burden of silence: "For it is the lot of some men to be assigned duties about which they may not speak. Such work is not for every man. But those who accept the burdens implicit in this silent labor realize a camaraderie and sense of value known to few. These memories cannot be stolen. They will last always, untarnished, ever better." In his poem, "A Tribute to All the Whalers," J. E. Coleman describes DREAMLAND in this way: AMERICA'S STRENGTH THROUGH TECHNOLOGY IS WHAT IS KEEPING FREE MEN FREE SO IF YOU EVER HEAR ABOUT THIS PLACE PLEASE HOPE IT EXISTS IN TIME AND SPACE FOR WHAT THEY DO THERE CAN'T BE TOLD BUT FREEDOM'S LIGHT THEY THERE UPHOLD Many projects tested at Groom Lake over the last five decades are still classified. The full story of this unique national asset may never be known. Nevertheless, DREAMLAND is beginning to yield its secrets at last.
The following is a general timeline of events at the Groom Lake, Nevada, test facility.
It covers half a century of history involving a unique national asset. Early 1955 A secure test site was needed for the Central Intelligence Agency's Project AQUATONE (Lockheed U-2). U-2 designer Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson sent project pilot Tony LeVier and Lockheed Skunk Works chief foreman Dorsey Kammerer on a two-week survey mission to scout locations for a new base in an unmarked Beechcraft V-35 Bonanza.
Richard M. Bissell Jr., "special assistant" to CIA director Allen Dulles, and director of the AQUATONE program reviewed fifty potential sites with his Air Force liaison, Col. Osmond J. "Ozzie" Ritland. None of the sites seemed to meet the stringent security requirements of the program. They rejected Johnson's proposed Site I (possibly Mud Lake) because it was too close to populated areas. Ritland, however, recalled "a little X-shaped field" just off the eastern side of Groom Dry Lake, about 100 miles north of Las Vegas, Nevada, just outside the Atomic Energy Commission's (AEC) nuclear proving ground at Yucca Flat.
April 1955 LeVier, Johnson, Bissell, and Ritland flew out to Nevada on a two-day survey of the most promising lakebeds, including Groom Lake. The abandoned airfield that Ritland had remembered was sandy, overgrown and unusable, but the three-mile-wide dry lakebed was perfect.
Bissell secured a Presidential action adding the Groom Lake area to the AEC proving ground. Ritland wrote three memos to the Air Force, AEC, and the Training Command that administered the gunnery range. Signed by Assistant Air Secretary for Research and Development Trevor Gardner, they insured that range activities would not impinge on the new test site. Security for the project was now assured.
Johnson met with CIA officials in Washington, D.C. and discussed progress on the base and the AQUATONE program. His proposal to name the base "Paradise Ranch" was accepted. It was an ironic choice which, he later admitted was "a dirty trick to lure workers to the program."